A Picture of Mental Health in America

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people choose to find a therapist or counselor to address their mental health concerns. But we know that only a portion of people who need help actually get it. The results of a comprehensive national survey have just been published and shed some light on what mental health looks like across the social landscape of the U.S. The full report, titled Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings is available online in its original format through the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

So what does this survey tell us? Here are the broad statistics: Approximately 45.1 million adults (19.9%) in the U.S. experienced some degree of mental health issues during 2009. Of those, almost 1 in 5 also struggles with a substance abuse disorder. When looking at very serious mental health concerns, 11 million adults (4.8%) were affected. Over 8 million adults considered suicide; 2.2 million made plans, and 1 million actually attempted suicide. The survey also showed that some populations are more prone to mental health concerns than others: young adults were most at risk and older adults were least at risk; women reported more mental health issues than men; and the unemployed were more at risk than those with jobs.

But despite establishing the degree of these problems, the survey showed just how untreated they go. Of those 45.1 million adults with mental health concerns, fewer than four in ten (37.9%) saw a therapist or counselor for their struggles. And among people with very serious mental illness, 4.4 million (49.8%) went untreated. There’s no proof as to why treatment is so low: it’s likely a combination of stigma, financial access, and lack of education about mental health and the benefits of therapy. But as the numbers show, mental health concerns are common and shared across all demographics: there’s no excuse for it to be on the back burner.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • teddy


    November 21st, 2010 at 10:57 AM

    “the unemployed were more at risk than those with jobs” was particularly unsettling because a whole lot of Americans have been losing jobs of late and this group would naturally have expanded of late.

  • Carlos


    November 21st, 2010 at 4:18 PM

    I have observed that mental healthcare is recieving a lot of attention of late and this partly has to do with the large number of people who require it. But the demand seems to outrun the supply,isn’t it? So my question is-would it not be wise to offer scholarships or maybe increase the scholarships to those that are pursuing and want to pursue psychology,psychiatry and other related branches? It will definitely help in the making of more professionals that will be required.

  • Allyssa


    November 21st, 2010 at 8:36 PM

    “But as the numbers show, mental health concerns are common and shared across all demographics: there’s no excuse for it to be on the back burner.” Exactly! And we should be asking our politicians why that’s sadly the case.

  • may


    November 21st, 2010 at 9:30 PM

    Hold on. 19.9%, that’s 1 in 5 American adults have mental health issues? Do we have any idea why that proportion is so high? I think that points to genetics. Is it possible that dominant genes are playing a role here? It would be interesting to see how that compares to a generation or two ago.

  • Isaac


    November 21st, 2010 at 10:07 PM

    I’m glad the study stressed that older adults were also more at risk of suicide. Many seem to think suicide is related to young people but it’s not true. Personally I think there are more suicides amongst older adults, especially those living alone, than are ever recorded.

  • colin


    November 21st, 2010 at 10:59 PM

    The authorities should make pot legal, take all the money they waste chasing joint smokers plus what’s raised from taxing it, then divert that to substance abuse help programs. I had no idea the problem was so enormous.

  • Madeleine


    November 22nd, 2010 at 5:44 AM

    Great snapshot of the mental health issues in the country. Now the big question is will we continue to ignore the problem or will we take this as an indicator that something needs to be done and that these numbers are unacceptable?

  • ruth


    November 22nd, 2010 at 6:01 AM

    @colin:I have the same view as you…nobody has ever died of an overdose of smoking pot.it does not harm you(no research has proven that it does).
    moreover if cigarettes and alcohol(which are far more dangerous and harmful) can be legal then why not weed…?!

  • Eli


    November 22nd, 2010 at 7:26 PM

    “Of those 45.1 million adults with mental health concerns, fewer than four in ten (37.9%) saw a therapist or counselor for their struggles.” Less than half. Now that is downright tragic.

  • Leah


    November 22nd, 2010 at 8:43 PM

    If a fraction of what’s been spent on our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was reassigned to mental health facilities, employing more therapists and opening new treatment programs, our country’s citizenship would be in much better shape. All those wars do is create more cases, particularly PTSD. Bring our boys home!

  • Lewis


    November 24th, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    How many of those six out of ten want mental help, know they need help, and can’t afford to get that help? That situation makes my blood boil. Mental help should be free and government funded. Period. No strings attached. How else can we better our society than start there? Don’t talk to me about economic stimulus plans. How about a mental health stimulus plan?

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